It’s the most wonderful time of the year! When you live in my neck of the woods, this is my hunting season. This is every nerds Comic-Con. This time of year not to think about baseball until it’s absolutely necessary. Basketball playoffs don’t matter until the NBA Finals, and by then Golden State should win it all anyways. This time of year brings out all the trash talkers from every bandwagon fan there is until you see them a year from now. This is the time of year where everyone at ESPN does everything wrong with hockey. The one time of year where anything is possible and upsets are abound: the NHL playoffs. For me, there’s a theme to this years playoffs: Momentum. Who has it, and how will it shape out.
Capitals against the Flyers: The Presidents Trophy Washington Capitals are the number one seed in the Conference going up against a team many did not believe to even get in. The Flyers Owner Ed Snyder recently passed away and there’s no bigger motivation to win for an owner who was well loved and respected by the players of young and old. I think the Capitals, with the Stanley Cup as their momentum take this series, but the longer they take to beat the Flyers, the more driven the Flyers will be to win for their owner. Caps in 5.
Red Wings against the Lightning: I don’t know. When it comes to momentum, it just looks like no one wants it. The Lightning lose top forward Steven Stamkos and top defenseman Anton Stralman. The recent call-up of winger Jonathan Drouin may help and the reuniting of the triplet line may do some damage. Ben Bishop will be ready to play, but even he’s lost a lot of one or two goal games this year. Will Tyler Johnson return to form in the playoffs? The Red Wings have a goalie debate again and if either one gets hot, that could be a difference maker. With Pavel Datsyuk on the verge of retiring, the Red Wings may have more than enough motivation to win for their teammate and build up the momentum needed to take out the Lightning. Red Wings in 6.
Penguins against the Rangers: The Islanders fan in me wants the Penguins to win. The writer in me thinks the Rangers can still pull this off. No one has more momentum going into the playoffs than Pittsburgh. The Rangers still have the defense and goaltending to steal a series and if the old guards of Eric Staal & Rick Nash become major factors, it’ll give more room for Zuccarello to do his thing. If Fleury is indeed starting game one, I’m letting go of any leash Kreider may have and let him crash that net in front of Fleury. If Malkin returns, will he be a factor? He should be. Ranger fans are really worried about Hagelin and feel he could be the Rangers killer this year. Oh yeah, then there’s this guy named Crosby. The Rangers have beaten the Pens the last two times they’ve played. The Rangers should still have the confidence to beat the Pens. In the end though It comes down to this: Will Lundquist be the clutch goalie we all know he can be? Some don’t think so this year, and they’re nervous about his performance. That alone gives Pittsburgh the momentum. Penguins in 7.
Islanders against the Panthers: Take your pick, 1993 or 1996? What year is more important to these franchises? Someone will advance and one year will be of a distant memory while the other will continue to linger and haunt it’s fan base for another season. The Panthers young core have not experienced a playoff round, while the Isles core has had enough of an education and know what it takes. The veterans on the Panthers have the experience and the winning pedigree, but they haven’t played any recent playoff games and even they can’t be relied on the way to take them to the Cup. I believe the Islanders had a tougher time getting to the 100 point mark this year than the Panthers because the Islanders were in a tougher division and the Isles were playing the Lightning and Canadiens before their injuries. Health favors the Islanders in the beginning of this series, but as the series get’s longer, Florida will get a few players back and that could change things. Both teams have size and skill and I could see this being a long series. The Islanders will need to score on the power-play this year if they want to win, which means letting Ryan Pulock take some blasts from the blue line. Brian Strait must not play a single minute of this series.
If there’s a catalyst who would give a big momentum boost to the Islanders, it’s not Brock Nelson. Many wrote he should be and I think the Panthers know that as well so I think he’ll get special attention which negates that theory unless Brock breaks out his inner World Championship form, then the Isles will have momentum. If Nelson’s line mates are correct, I think Shane Prince or (shudder the thought) Josh Bailey could see a big series and carry the momentum. As for the Panthers, they may discover one in this series but Jokinen wouldn’t shock me to be theirs. Travis Hamonic playing in this series will give some momentum to the Isles while Gudbranson will do the same for the Panthers. If I had to pick a series winner just off the goalies, I would pick Luongo over Greiss, which is why the rest of the Islanders team needs to make Greiss as much of a non-factor as possible. Then again, back in 1993 everyone picked Tom Barrasso over Glenn Healy and look what happened. This series will be nothing but momentum, it’ll swing back and forth, up and down right to the last-minute of every game. The Panthers will feel like they have momentum going into the playoffs. They’ll mistake that for adrenaline. In the end I think the Islanders take their long, hard lessons from the Penguins and Capitals and they will give the Panthers a lesson in momentum. 1993 will be a memory and then this years team can continue to write their own lore into Islanders history. Islanders in 6.